Erric: After struggling with your weight, food and substance addiction and serious illness, can you explain how yoga and meditation helped you work through those difficult periods?
Brandt: Yes. Basically I was an addict - to food substances and extreme mental states like anxiety. Yoga, including physical, breathing and meditation practices helped me loosen the hold of my addiction. The amazing thing about doing these practices was the way it became really clear to me that my physical problems, my anxiety, and my addictions (especially to food and alcohol) were coming from the same source. I helped myself by, in a sense, getting addicted to the pleasantness of yoga and meditation, which slowly but surely replaced the other addictions. We humans are so malleable - it just usually takes an experience that we perceive as pleasant to get ourselves to change direction.
Erric: The name of your system is "Peaceful Weight Loss,” and your recent CD (click here to find out more) is called “Being at Peace with Food.” What's the significance of the word "Peaceful" and how might this distinguish your program from other weight loss programs we might hear about?
Brandt: It’s funny - the culture of weight loss seems to always include pain. It’s mainly because weight loss programs generally deal with such a small sliver of the problem. The extreme focus of calories in and out makes it seem like that is the entirety of the problem. Those of us who have struggled in this way know this to be true. Yet, we often buy this idea that if we eat less, have will power, we will lose unwanted weight and all of our problems will go away. The truth is that when we get OK with our difficulty around food, the calories-in-out thing is not actually that big a deal. When we work with people using the PWL process we are moving them towards a saner, more content state of mind. We then peacefully go about losing some weight. And always in that order. First we find ourselves calmer and in our body enough to access our innate bliss (even if just a little bit). Then we deal with our food intake. There is no benefit to simply battling cravings, habits, and compulsions without a counterbalance of practices that keep us in a reasonable, centered place.
Erric: Based on your experience, what are some of the main obstacles to learning how to be at peace with food?
Brandt: That’s a great question! The first obstacle is probably realizing that our stories around why we eat are oversimplified. We are a complex set of physical, energetic, and spiritual interactions. Teasing all this out is hard on a good day and impossible on most. Once we realize that we can and need to reprogram ourselves to move away from our suffering, we are moving in the right direction. We are responsible for our own happiness, so it’s important that we move towards this by taking appropriate action. Everyone has some issues around food and/or body image in our culture. It’s important that we don’t blame ourselves for that and stay solution oriented.
The other thing I see constantly is a real confusion about what normal is. There is no normal - we have not in any way evolved into perfect eating machines. Our blood sugar is constantly off - our cravings don’t really serve us in this environment - and our emotions deeply affect our drive to eat. So I guess my message is that you are normal because there is no normal. Once we get OK with this we can choose to eat and move and live in a way that is most beneficial to us.
Erric: In your blog post, you mentioned that "micro practices throughout the day are essential" for a necessary shift in the complex relationship that many of us have with food and our bodies. Can you give an example of a helpful micro practice we can incorporate into our day?
Brandt: I think my favorite practice is to feel my feet on the ground. There are so many times during a day where we walk just for a moment - to the bathroom, or our car. We almost always let our mind run wild during these times in not so productive ways.
If we simply watch our steps - left - right - left - as we walk we begin to train the mind not only to stay in the present, but to stay in our body. This is essential for this work because we need to get addicted to this body consciousness so that we can use our bodies’ signals to determine our actions. All practice that brings us back to our body will be helpful with our food behaviors.
Erric: Could you explain the exercise called "start from where you are?" How can meditation help us to take the first step?
Brandt: The “start from where you are” is a simple breathing exercise. It basically has us becoming aware of the breath and then adding the words “I am” as we breathe in and out.
It’s simple but essential. When we want to create change it is often hard for us because we are not grounded enough in reality. This makes things difficult because we are trying to change something, but we are not actually sure what. In order to create change in ourselves we need to first find ourselves. So this exercise is just that. We sit and watch our breath, and realize a simple truth - I am. From that grounded place we can then seek change with full integrity.
Erric: How has your practice evolved since you started sharing you what you learned and helping others on their journey?
Brandt: Wow, that’s big question! I’ve realized how much serving others serves myself. They are in fact so intertwined that there really is no difference.
The other thing is that by signing up to walk down the twisty road of this process with someone else requires me to be very clear in my own practice. I have less room for error so to speak because the error is not mine alone. In a way, my practice gets easier and more fulfilling every day because of the people around me that inspire me.
It’s a real privilege sharing my practice with others and vice versa. I hope I get to practice this way in the world for a long time.